Starting a conversation with a girl by complimenting her appearance is an all-too-common default that leads nowhere. To have a more interesting, meaningful interaction with her, make it an inner beauty conversation.
Of course, it’s totally okay to celebrate how beautiful tween and teen girls are. Especially when many girls are shamed by popular culture for not being thin/light-skinned/perfect enough. So many girls feel invisible or self-conscious as a result of these unfair and oppressive standards.
How a Compliment Can Be a Problem
The trouble with just complimenting a girl’s looks is that it continues the constant focus on her worth being tied to appearance. This message is everywhere and ultimately harmful. Most girls have spent their entire lives receiving compliments from well-meaning family members and strangers alike who say, “I love your shirt” or “nice smile” or “your hair is so pretty” so often that girls hear comments like these multiple times a day.
From the time they are toddlers.
It’s no wonder tween & teen girls spend hours in front of the mirror each day or use technology to change their appearance in order to be “Instagram ready.” This happens because they are responding to the constant pressure to look a certain way – based on unattainable, harmful beauty standards and the attention they get for how they look. But if we don’t start by complimenting their appearance, how do we start the conversation?
What Starts an Inner Beauty Conversation?
As adults, we have a lot of power to change the focus of our conversations with girls. This is because, as Uncles and Aunties and Grandparents and Dads and Moms and Educators, we can intentionally talk to girls in ways that honor their ideas, dreams, and activism.
Try these greetings and conversation starters with the girls in your life:
- I’m so happy to see you!
- What are you reading right now?
- I’ve been thinking about you. How are you spending your free time lately?
- Have you had any business ideas recently?
- You seem happy.
- Who inspires you right now?
- Tell me about the funniest part of your day so far.
- Has anything been worrying you or bothering you lately?
- Tell me about something you made recently.
- Who/What are you standing up for these days?
Even if you catch yourself commenting on her clothes or looks, you can interrupt yourself and switch gears. And some girls might even surprise you with their answer!
Teach Her How To Accept and Redirect
With my daughter Heaven we practice how she can redirect a conversation that starts with her appearance. When a stranger or family member tells this 10-year-old how pretty she looks, she takes in the compliment and responds, “Thank you. And I’m smart, too!” Folks are surprised and delighted by her response.
This week, practice engaging girls around their inner beauty and let them surprise you with their answers. Let us know how it goes!
Allison Kenny is a writer and Co-founder of the award-winning B-Corp, Spotlight: Girls where she and her wife educate, inspire and activate girls to take center stage. She is thrilled to be a new member of the New Moon Girls family of storytellers and girl advocates. Find Allison in Oakland, CA homeschooling her 10-year-old daughter and writing early chapter books about families like hers.